June 29, 2008

"As a Buddhist, how do you reconcile your pacifism with the roles your daughter Uma has played in films like Quentin Tarantino’s bloody 'Kill Bill'?"

A question for Robert Thurman. Answer:
Quentin is kind of obsessed, he’s a wild guy. But he is very brilliant. We trust that his motive is to show people the foolishness of violence rather than to glorify it. I hope that’s true.
Think it is?

Thurman is a professor of Buddhist studies and is ordained as a Tibetan monk (though he is American). I love this answer to the question what does he think about when meditating:
Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

... It’s a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection. It’s a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side, finding the mother in Dick Cheney....

When I want to feel compassion for an unlikable person, I imagine him as someone’s adored son. Some lamas do that. They say that that’s easier for Americans, because often Americans have personality problems with their moms.
How would you visualize a person you wanted to feel compassion for? And would you want to develop a visualization that would enable you to feel compassion for someone you hated? What public figure would you want to try to start feeling positive about?

Aside from public figures, it does seem like a good idea to find a way to feel compassion for people who one way or another have come to be what people find unlikable. It would not work for me to imagine him as someone’s adored son, because it would only lead me to believe that being adored by one's parent causes a person to become unlikable.

Obviously, I'm not a Buddhist. I'm more inclined to want to understand what has caused these traits that are perceived as unlikable and why, exactly, do we find them unlikable. I don't want to wipe away the perception of unlikability but to know more about it and to perceive it with greater clarity.

32 comments:

AlgonquinS said...

I'll never make it as a Buddhist. I still want to waterboard Freder.

AllenS said...

Sorry, that was my dirty sock.

George said...

Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, don't stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don't try to keep back your shirt.

peter hoh said...

George is on to something. It was a bit of an eye-opener to see Christianity as an "eastern" religion, but it looks that way when one tries to look at is as the Romans might have looked at it.

On to the question. How would you visualize a person you wanted to feel compassion for? I'd imagine that person as an infant.

rhhardin said...

I don't know how pacifism gets mixed up with compassion.

Maybe tough pacifism needs to be proposed.

Bissage said...

When I want to feel compassion for an unlikable person, I imagine him as someone’s adored son.

Deep.

Or maybe not.

She may not be very pretty now, but she was somebody's baby once.

LINK at 3:18.

Christy said...

Do not we most dislike in others that which we recognize (or fail to recognize) in ourselves?

Dave Schuler said...

Think it is?


I think that Quentin Tarantino wants to do stuff that he likes doing and get paid (rather well) for doing it. I've seen no evidence that he has any larger purpose in his celebrations of violence.

Bob said...

*tries to imagine a Kos Kid nursing at Dick Cheney's manboobs*

Nope. Can't do it. Brain would explode.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

When I taught high school Latin and suffered from some anger issues, to put it gently, a wise old priest told me before saying ANYTHING to one of the little miscreants to, for example, look him directly in the eyes and think "Child of God John Smith..." and that then I would be able to be calmer.

It worked. Mostly. Sometimes I found myself thinking "Limb of Satan Susie Smith..." or some such, though.

P. Rich said...

Althouse, you are so...sub-tul. It's been a sly Bash-A-Republican week. Repent, in a Buddhist kinda way. You'll feeeeeel the better for it. Maybe a shiver will run up your leg. Perhaps it will reach your prefrontal cortex, which appears to be enthralled by Obamaluv. The synergy will be awesome.

William said...

In a world with a surfeit of President Hus and Robert Mugabes and Sadrs, this Buddhist can imagine no political figure more annoying than Dick Cheney. Self centered people rarely find the center of the spinning world,

Albatross said...

"For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast."

[shudder]

It's a good thing I don't believe in reincarnation. The thought of suckling any old man, in past or future lives, is somehow less than spiritual for me.

Seneca the Younger said...

Okay, I am a Buddhist, what Thurman is talking about is called the "mettabhavana" or "maitribhavana" or just "metta" practice, and it goes like this: "metta" is the feeling you have for a kitten or puppy or baby. The word is often translated "lovingkindness" which is such a horrid word that I practice metta toward the word.

You start out by thinking of yourself, and trying to have that feeling for yourself: you can say to yourself

"May I be well,
May I be happy,
May I be free,
May I be at peace."

All the while trying to awaken that metta feeling in yourself toward yourself.

Then think about members of your family:

"May Mom be well,
May Mom be happy,
May Mom be free,
May Mom be at peace."

Then about people about whom you feel indifferent:

"May George be well, ...happy, ... free, ... at peace."

Then think about people you admire, and people you dislike:

"May Dick Cheney be well, ...happy, ...free, ... at peace."

Keep working out in widening ranges until you include everyone you can think of. Traditionally that might be "May all sentient beings in all innumerable Dharma-realms be well, ... happy, ... free, ... at peace." (The innumerable Dharma realms just means roughly every conceivable universe that has natural law.)

Real Quaker or Ghandi-esque pacifism isn't all that Buddhist; it's at least as common for Buddhists to take the position that violence can be regrettable, but sometimes necessary. Self-defense is allowed, for example.

I think you're misunderstanding Tarantino, though: if you think about it, his movies are always about redemption and honor; even in Kill Bill, Beatrice has to be reconciled with Bill to complete her task.

Seneca the Younger said...

Oh, and if you want to read some other plain-English explanations of Buddhist thought click here and here and have a look at some of the other things on my blog.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think you're misunderstanding Tarantino, though..."

Why? What did I say about him?

gophermomeh said...

Christy has your answer. I'd also add that compassion and unlikability more often than not go hand in hand. There is goodness in everyone - for some it's just takes a little more work to see. And that work is worth it.

AJ Lynch said...

How about that?

AlgonquinS is way funnier than AllenS!

AJ Lynch said...

I never saw what was so great about Tarentino movies. They strike me as what a 17 year old kid would produce. I thought Pulp Fiction was the most overrated movie of all time.

Chip Ahoy said...

Pulp Fiction. I like the sound track. It has Son of a Preacher Man.

Hmmm, a buddhist who simply must invoke Cheney to explain a point. Back to the drawing board, boob. Or, would that be back to your little shrine thingie with the food offering on it?

Whenever I think of Cheney, I think, "Uncle Cheney!" *glees*

Buddhists carry a lot more anger, than they're willing to admit. At least the American ones I know.

Trumpit said...

I do not suffer fools, especially arrogant ones, lightly. I imagine them suckling briefly on a hand grenade before it explodes. Then I rejoice in their oblivion. Why do I want them to be happy? Please explain.

Paddy O. said...

Christianity very much is an eastern religion. This is much more apparent in the monastic texts than in the contemporary expression, however.

And it's getting more eastern. There are no more passionate Christians I know than South Koreans. Chinese Christians are very much going to reshape the expression of the faith.

But to the question 'how'? The turn the other cheek thing is definitely an aspect. Also, I have found it most effective to purposely try to see from their perspective. Very few people are genuinely evil or purposefully unlikable. Most everyone is trying to act on their own perspective and respond to their own issues. Find the explanation of their unlikeability in what they are wanting to solve or pursue. Think of their hardships or past that has driven them to be unlikeable. Know that unlikeable people are not whole and at peace. They are enmeshed in chaos and that brings compassion for them.

Also, and this is a big desert Fathers approach, meditate on your own unlikeability. Recognize and dwell on your own sins and then see how very few of us are able to judge others with anger.

Far too much, however, meditation on sin in the West has been meditation on other people's sins which makes people more unlikeable.

rhhardin said...

I do not suffer fools, especially arrogant ones, lightly.

I seek them out.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Wait!! I thought the central message of Buddhismis every man for himself.

Actually Seneca's mettabhavana is very much like I was taught as a child for bedtime prayers. God Bless all the people we love and then we should also God Bless even those that we don't love.....even Bobby the bully in at school who was mean because he probably needed to be loved at home, wasn't lucky like me to have great parents and had some problems and that was why we need to pray for his betterment, even though Bobby really sucked...pray anyway and try to mean it! If you pray or think kind thoughts you will be at peace and maybe it will leak over onto the Bobbies of the world. Very similar IMO.

At least that was what I was taught. However the mental image of suckling Cheney makes me queasy.

bearbee said...

How would you visualize a person you wanted to feel compassion for?

Their broken, bleeding body laying in a ditch.

In a world with a surfeit of President Hus and Robert Mugabes and Sadrs, this Buddhist can imagine no political figure more annoying than Dick Cheney. Self centered people rarely find the center of the spinning world,

Yes indeedy

Kirk Parker said...

Paddy O.,

And not just the desert Fathers--Lancelot Andrewes was very much into that approach.

algonquins,

As long as you use the Tarantino approach, and make it just about entertainment...

blake said...

Obviously, I'm not a Buddhist. I'm more inclined to want to understand what has caused these traits that are perceived as unlikable and why, exactly, do we find them unlikable. I don't want to wipe away the perception of unlikability but to know more about it and to perceive it with greater clarity.

Well, I'm not a Buddhist either (at least, not this lifetime) but I don't believe the point is to wipe away the general perception of unlikability--wait, shouldn't that be "unlikableness", since we're talking about a state of being?--but to remove yourself from being the effect thereof.

If you cannot rid yourself of your aversion, you can hardly study it clearly.

Understanding it, you're free to have the aversion or not if you choose. Until then, you're at its mercy.

Seneca the Younger said...

Why? What did I say about him?

Are you the only person commenting about him, Ann?

But yeah, it was ambiguous: I was responding to Dave's remark as well.

Seneca the Younger said...

Hmmm, a buddhist who simply must invoke Cheney to explain a point. Back to the drawing board, boob. Or, would that be back to your little shrine thingie with the food offering on it?

Which one of us? Notice that I said "admire or dislike". And yeah, it's kind of silly to make Cheney into one focus of metta --- but then my ex-wife makes it into mine, and there are lots worse people than her around. The point is to pick someone you currently dislike or are angry towards.

As far as drawing boards, you might find a little metta practice helpful yourself.

Blake's comment is quite insightful.

Freeman Hunt said...

For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

Well if that's not begging for a photoshop, I don't know what is.

How would you visualize a person you wanted to feel compassion for?

There's nothing to visualize that helps me with that. I just think of the person's soul, the divine spark. You can care about that part no matter what evil the person has done.

bearbee said...

...but then my ex-wife makes it into mine,..

Is your ex a Buddist?

Buddhists carry a lot more anger, than they're willing to admit. At least the American ones I know.

Do they become Buddists because of the anger, or is the anger tapped in to once they become Buddhists?

Tibetan and Burmese Buddists took to the streets. Was that anger or the warrior instinct for truth and justice?

blake said...

bearbee--

From what I've seen Buddhism can serve as a way to master your anger (and other emotions), or as a way to express it in a passive-aggressive fashion.

Obviously the latter isn't really Buddhism, but few things survive untainted, Buddhism least of all.